How to Rid Thrifted Clothes and Furniture of That "Thrift Store Smell"

pile of sweaters

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If you're into thrift shopping, you may have noticed that unfortunately, many items come with what can only be described as a musty "thrift store smell" that can be seemingly difficult to erase. However, it turns out that deodorizing your finds is easier than you may have thought. Below, cleaning experts share a number of suggestions for making your finds smell good as new.

But first things first: you'll want to be careful with your new item.

"To be on the safe side, always test any cleaning solution on a small, inconspicuous area of the thrifted item first to make sure that it won’t damage the fabric or furniture," says Lily Cameron, cleaning expert at Fantastic Services. Once you've done so, try out any of the below methods.

Meet the Expert

  • Lily Cameron is a cleaning expert at Fantastic Services.
  • Prerna Jain is the Managing Director at Ministry Of Cleaning, a residential and commercial cleaning company.
  • Justin Carpenter is the founder and CEO of of Modern Maids, a residential cleaning company in Texas.

Air Out the Item

Don't feel rushed to bring your new thrift store find indoors right away.

"The first thing to do once you’ve thrifted something is to air it out," Cameron says. "Leave it outside or in a well-ventilated area, such as a porch or balcony, for a few hours or even a day if possible. The fresh air will help eliminate some of the musty smell."

It is best to do this on a sunny day. "The UV rays from the sun can help kill bacteria that cause odors," says Prerna Jain, Managing Director at Ministry Of Cleaning. "This method is especially effective for fabrics and upholstery that can be washed, as it can also help remove stains and discoloration."

Of course, Jain adds, certain fabrics such as silk, wool, cashmere, leather, or wood should not receive direct sunlight for long.

clothes drying outside

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Put Baking Soda on the Item

This household staple isn't just for the kitchen. Baking soda can work wonders in making unpleasant smells disappear too.

"Sprinkle baking soda liberally over the thrifted item and leave it to sit for a few hours, or even overnight if possible," Cameron says. To ensure that this process is effective, you'll want to sprinkle the baking sofa in a thin and even layer, she says. And you'll want to ensure your vacuum is handy to clean up any mess.

baking soda in jar


Try Some Vinegar

No baking soda on hand? Fear not, as long as you have some vinegar nearby, you can spare yourself a trip to the store.

"Similar to baking soda, vinegar is also an excellent deodorizer," Cameron says. "Mix equal parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle and spritz it onto the thrifted item."

Once you've done this, let the item sit outside to air dry. If you have both baking soda and vinegar on hand, you can also combine them to create a special solution.

"Combine equal parts of the two ingredients together in a bowl and mix it with enough water to make it into a paste," says Justin Carpenter, CEO of Modern Maids. "Then, apply the solution to any spots on the item that are particularly smelly and let sit for 15 minutes before washing off with water."

Grab Additional Household Items

The items listed above aren't the only pantry staples that will help you say goodbye to smells. Cameron says that newspaper, cat litter, activated charcoal, and essential oils can all come in handy as well.

If you have spare newspaper, you can roll it up and place it inside clothing sleeves or pockets then let them sit for up to two days. Cat litter can be placed inside a bag with your thrift find for up to a week. Activated charcoal can go in a container and be placed near your item.

"This method is especially effective for fabrics and upholstery that can't be washed easily, as it doesn't involve any moisture or liquid," Jain says. Essential oils can simply be sprayed directly onto your find.

Steam Cleaning

Go ahead and grab that steamer from your closet. "Steam a garment you’ve thrifted and it’ll do an excellent job at eliminating bad smells, especially if you use a scent-infused cleaning solution," Cameron says.

This tactic comes with more than one benefit. "This method will also help remove any wrinkles or napped fabrics," she says. "Keep in mind that you may need to repeat the process a few times for optimal results."

If you don't own a steamer, that's perfectly okay as well. "You can also try using a clothes iron with a damp cloth placed over the fabric to help release any odors," Carpenter says.

person steaming shirt

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